Tuesday, November 30News That Matters

Archaeology: Statue of Roman emperor Constantine the Great reunited with digit missing for 500 years

A giant bronze statue of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great has been reunited with a finger that it lost some 500 years ago.

Held in the Capitoline Museums of Rome, remains of the 39ft colossus include a head as tall as a man, a damaged left hand and the sphere it once bore.

In 2018, doctoral student Aurélia Azéma realised that a 15-inch-long bronze digit in Paris’ Louvre was not a toe — as it had been identified in 1913 — but Constantine’s lost forefinger.

After a resin reconstruction of the the digit was proven to fit on the colossus’ hand in June that year, this Wednesday saw the real thing mounted back in its proper place.

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Give him the finger! A giant bronze statue of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great (pictured) has been reunited with the forefinger that it lost some 500 years ago

Give him the finger! A giant bronze statue of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great (pictured) has been reunited with the forefinger that it lost some 500 years ago

Give him the finger! A giant bronze statue of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great (pictured) has been reunited with the forefinger that it lost some 500 years ago

In 2018, Aurélia Azéma realised that a 15-inch-long bronze digit (pictured) in Paris' Louvre was not a toe — as it had been identified in 1913 — but Constantine's lost forefinger

In 2018, Aurélia Azéma realised that a 15-inch-long bronze digit (pictured) in Paris' Louvre was not a toe — as it had been identified in 1913 — but Constantine's lost forefinger

In 2018, Aurélia Azéma realised that a 15-inch-long bronze digit (pictured) in Paris’ Louvre was not a toe — as it had been identified in 1913 — but Constantine’s lost forefinger

Pictured: the remounted finger, showing the join with the statue's left hand

Pictured: the remounted finger, showing the join with the statue's left hand

Pictured: the remounted finger, showing the join with the statue’s left hand

Held in the Capitoline Museums of Rome, remains of the once 39-feet-tall colossus (pictured) include a head as tall as a man, a damaged left hand and the sphere it once bore

Held in the Capitoline Museums of Rome, remains of the once 39-feet-tall colossus (pictured) include a head as tall as a man, a damaged left hand and the sphere it once bore

Held in the Capitoline Museums of Rome, remains of the once 39-feet-tall colossus (left) include a head as tall as a man, a damaged left hand (pictured) and the sphere it once bore

Held in the Capitoline Museums of Rome, remains of the once 39-feet-tall colossus (left) include a head as tall as a man, a damaged left hand (pictured) and the sphere it once bore

Held in the Capitoline Museums of Rome, remains of the once 39-feet-tall colossus (left) include a head as tall as a man, a damaged left hand (right) and the sphere it once bore

With the forefinger having been confused for a toe in 1913, however, it would take over a century until Ms Azéma — who was conducting research into the ancient manufacturing techniques used on large bronze statues — realised the mistake. Pictured: the hand and forearm of the colossus before the missing index finger was reattached

With the forefinger having been confused for a toe in 1913, however, it would take over a century until Ms Azéma — who was conducting research into the ancient manufacturing techniques used on large bronze statues — realised the mistake. Pictured: the hand and forearm of the colossus before the missing index finger was reattached

With the forefinger having been confused for a toe in 1913, however, it would take over a century until Ms Azéma — who was conducting research into the ancient manufacturing techniques used on large bronze statues — realised the mistake. Pictured: the hand and forearm of the colossus before the missing index finger was reattached

‘A non-invasive, reversible and invisible system’ was used to ‘perfectly’ restore the bronze finger onto the statue’s hand, Capitoline Museums director Claudio Parisi Presicce told the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero.

‘It’s a good way to mark the reopening of museums,’ added the mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi.

Museums in the capital city were allowed to reopen on April 26 following an easing of restrictions designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The head, hand and globe fragments were acquired by the collection of the Palazzo dei Conservatori on Capitoline Hill in Rome in 1471 as  a gift from Pope Sixtus IV. 

Pictured: Giampietro Campana, the Marchese di Cavelli, who once owned the finger of the bronze colossus of Constantine

Pictured: Giampietro Campana, the Marchese di Cavelli, who once owned the finger of the bronze colossus of Constantine

Pictured: Giampietro Campana, the Marchese di Cavelli, who once owned the finger of the bronze colossus of Constantine

The long-lost index finger was part of a collection acquired by the Louvre in 1863 from the Italian banker and art collector Giampietro Campana, who had amassed one of 19th century’s greatest collections of Roman and Greek antiquities.

‘Napoleon III’s acquisition of most of the Campana collection considerably enriched the collections of the Louvre,’ noted Capitoline Museums director Françoise Gaultier.

With the forefinger having been confused for a toe in 1913, however, it would take over a century until Ms Azéma — who was conducting research into the ancient manufacturing techniques used on large bronze statues — realised the mistake.

The scale of the finger suggested that it must have once belonged to a statue around 40 feet tall, which brought Constantine’s colossus to mind.

After a resin reconstruction of the the digit was proven to fit on the colossus' hand in June that year, this Wednesday saw the real thing mounted back in its proper place, as pictured

After a resin reconstruction of the the digit was proven to fit on the colossus' hand in June that year, this Wednesday saw the real thing mounted back in its proper place, as pictured

After a resin reconstruction of the the digit was proven to fit on the colossus’ hand in June that year, this Wednesday saw the real thing mounted back in its proper place, as pictured

The long-lost index finger was part of a collection acquired by the Louvre in 1863 from the Italian banker and art collector Giampietro Campana, who had amassed one of 19th century’s greatest collections of Roman and Greek antiquities. Pictured: the Louvre's main courtyard

The long-lost index finger was part of a collection acquired by the Louvre in 1863 from the Italian banker and art collector Giampietro Campana, who had amassed one of 19th century’s greatest collections of Roman and Greek antiquities. Pictured: the Louvre's main courtyard

The long-lost index finger was part of a collection acquired by the Louvre in 1863 from the Italian banker and art collector Giampietro Campana, who had amassed one of 19th century’s greatest collections of Roman and Greek antiquities. Pictured: the Louvre’s main courtyard 

'A non-invasive, reversible and invisible system' was used to 'perfectly' restore the bronze index finger onto the statue's hand (as pictured), Capitoline Museums director Claudio Parisi Presicce told the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero

'A non-invasive, reversible and invisible system' was used to 'perfectly' restore the bronze index finger onto the statue's hand (as pictured), Capitoline Museums director Claudio Parisi Presicce told the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero

‘A non-invasive, reversible and invisible system’ was used to ‘perfectly’ restore the bronze index finger onto the statue’s hand (as pictured), Capitoline Museums director Claudio Parisi Presicce told the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero

While experts believe that it was forged in around 330 AD, the exact origins of the gilded colossus remain somewhat of a mystery.

The first description of the statue’s fragments dates back to the middle of the 12th century, when they reportedly stood on pillars outside of the Lateran Palace in Rome.

The remains go on to be mentioned in several medieval and 15th century chronicles — and the head and the then-still-intact hand, holding the globe, were depicted in a drawing dated to 1465. 

While experts believe that it was forged in around 330 AD, the origins of the colossus remain somewhat of a mystery. The first description of the statue's fragments dates back to the 12th century, when they reportedly stood on pillars outside of the Lateran Palace in Rome, pictured

While experts believe that it was forged in around 330 AD, the origins of the colossus remain somewhat of a mystery. The first description of the statue's fragments dates back to the 12th century, when they reportedly stood on pillars outside of the Lateran Palace in Rome, pictured

While experts believe that it was forged in around 330 AD, the origins of the colossus remain somewhat of a mystery. The first description of the statue’s fragments dates back to the 12th century, when they reportedly stood on pillars outside of the Lateran Palace in Rome, pictured

According to Mr Presicce, it is thought that the finger and part of the palm of the hand was lost when the globe the colossus had been holding was separated from the statue and placed on a column marking the first mile of the Appian Way. Pictured: the restored index finger

According to Mr Presicce, it is thought that the finger and part of the palm of the hand was lost when the globe the colossus had been holding was separated from the statue and placed on a column marking the first mile of the Appian Way. Pictured: the restored index finger

According to Mr Presicce, it is thought that the finger and part of the palm of the hand was lost when the globe the colossus had been holding was separated from the statue and placed on a column marking the first mile of the Appian Way. Pictured: the restored index finger

The restoration of the finger is 'a good way to mark the reopening of museums,' said the mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi. Museums in the capital city (like the Capitoline Museums, pictured) were allowed to reopen this past Monday following an easing of COVID-19 restrictions

The restoration of the finger is 'a good way to mark the reopening of museums,' said the mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi. Museums in the capital city (like the Capitoline Museums, pictured) were allowed to reopen this past Monday following an easing of COVID-19 restrictions

The restoration of the finger is ‘a good way to mark the reopening of museums,’ said the mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi. Museums in the capital city (like the Capitoline Museums, pictured) were allowed to reopen this past Monday following an easing of COVID-19 restrictions

It would appear that the hand became damaged sometime before the late 1530s, with an engraving by the Portuguese painter Francisco De Holanda from this period showing the stature to have lost its index and middle fingers.

According to Mr Presicce, it is thought that these parts — and the palm of the hand — were lost when the globe the colossus had been holding was separated from the statue and placed on a column marking the first mile of the Appian Way.

Dubbed ‘the queen of the long roads’ by the Roman poet Statius, the Appian Way was one of the earliest and most strategically important Roman roads, linking the heart of the empire to Brindisi in southeast Italy.

It is unclear how the finger came to end up in the collections of Marchese Campana — although experts hope the answer may one day be found in historical documents. 

CONSTANTINE THE GREAT 

Pictured: the head of Constantine's other colossus, carved out of white marble

Pictured: the head of Constantine's other colossus, carved out of white marble

Pictured: the head of Constantine’s other colossus, carved out of white marble

Constantine the Great, or Constantine I, was a powerful Roman general and ruler who lived from February 27, 272–May 22, 337 AD.

He is perhaps best known for being the first Christian Roman emperor.

This stopped people from punishing Christians, who had long been persecuted or killed for their faith.

He became sole ruler of the Roman empire in 324 after deposing of Licinius, who had ruled the eastern empire and Maxentius after a series of civil wars.

He is known for enacting administrative, financial, social and military reforms that served to strengthen the empire, alongside renaming Byzantium as Constantinople  —now Istanbul — in his honour.

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